The years-long saga surrounding the construction of the Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield has finally come to a definitive close, after the company sent a letter last week to Enfield Town Board members announcing its dissolution.
While the project’s vocal opposition may be glad to see them go, it appears Enfield may still be left holding the bag for the failed alternative energy proposal to the tune of over $8,000. In the letter, Black Oak said they are not capable of covering the last of the expenses, as well as offering one parting shot at the residents who disrupted the $40M project.
“I regret to inform you that we will be unable to pay our bill with the town for the overdrawn escrow account amount of $8073.41,” said the letter, signed by Project Manager and Vice President Marguerite Wells. “We have spent our last dollars filing our final tax returns, and the wind opponents drained everything else. We are closing the company in the coming weeks.”
Wells said in an interview that the corporation is bankrupt, but would not speak to whether or not Black Oak would be officially declaring bankruptcy. The project, she said, “couldn’t survive” the year-long moratorium that the Town Board had approved over the summer on alternative energy projects.
“They can’t have it,” she said of the $8,000 owed to the town. “They killed the project, they can’t get paid. We owe millions of dollars to other people too. Everybody’s not getting paid. [...] I can’t give you an exact figure, but a whole lot, hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of which would have been paid if the project had been allowed to go forward, but they killed it. Everybody’s in the red.”
Wells blamed the failure of the project on fear and the anger of a minority of Enfield residents. She called the situation a “profound loss,” and said she did not know whether to expect legal action from the town to retrieve its money, but said the corporation will soon be dissolved and, in essence, the town cannot draw blood from a stone.
“There’s nothing for them to come get,” she said.
Town Board member and incoming Town Supervisor Beth McGee lamented that after so much time and effort, the project would end in such thoroughly disappointing fashion.
“My understanding is they are obligated, under the law, that if they have assets they have to pay their liabilities before they can disburse any remaining monies,” McGee said. “We have wasted a lot of energy, and a lot of time, and a lot of money our taxpayers won’t see back focusing on this issue. I really would have liked to see a resolution that worked for everyone, but it didn’t seem to be in the cards.”
While the project was hobbled from years of discussion, negotiation and opposition, there was still at least a chance that the project would move forward if another investor stepped up after much of the financing fled due to the public backlash against the wind farm. But this announcement marks the nail in the coffin, said outgoing Town Supervisor Ann Rider, an avowed supporter of the project.
“The project was in the works, but the project needed a new investor,” Rider said. “They couldn’t get the final investor, because of how the board acted.”
Rider attributed at least a portion of the project’s extinction on the Town Board’s apprehension, which had evolved over the last few years since the proposal’s introduction. The wind farm had at least one ally, though, in the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, which granted it a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement. Residents began to speak up at public meetings, though, and eventually the Town Board effectively stopped reviewing Black Oak materials. An expansion from five to seven windmills, for financial viability reasons, only exacerbated the opposition’s outcry, Rider said.
As for the future of alternative energy in the area, a focus in Tompkins County and a popular topic with Enfield’s high winds and open spaces, McGee said she didn’t see this as being the end of those opportunities. Prior to being elected to the Town Board, McGee was a member of the Enfield Neighbors for Safe Air and Water environmental activism group.
Going forward, though, McGee emphasized that while she would still be interested in looking at alternative energy projects coming to the town, she would like to employ a more cautious approach to ensure that Enfield’s residents are not forgotten among the energy goals of Tompkins County.
“We still want to invite renewable energy, that is still my goal, but it has to be safe and responsible and we have to make sure we are not left with an irresponsible amount of development where we have not made any assessments about how it will affect our town and its residents,” McGee said.